The streets of India have always held a fascination for photographers, and it is evident in Henri-Cartier Bresson’s images of a newly independent India, Steve McCurry’s photographs of Jodhpur and Raghu Rai’s black-and-white portrayal of Kolkata. Inspired by these images and his own travels, photographer Anil Purohit has created a deeply personal body of work that brings to life the diverse people who occupy Indian streets – actors getting ready for a Ramleela procession, a crowd out to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, or a group of guests on their way to a wedding.
An exhibition of Purohit’s work, titled Transitions: Moments in Crossing, is on display at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery till December 19. It features images from Jaipur, Delhi, Jodhpur, Kolkata, Benares, Murshidabad and Mumbai, among others. Mumbai-based Purohit has captured moments that are full of “[the] serendipitous, unexpected and unforeseen”. “The fact that these elements arrange themselves on the street and converge to some meaning in that fraction of a moment and that it may never occur again is a powerful driver to commit that moment on a frame,” he said.
Calm amidst the chaos
Purohit’s frames are rarely without people but never look chaotic. For instance, one photograph captures an innocent exchange between two girls, dressed in identical red polka-dot dresses, while another shows a moment of anger and defiance by a trumpet player asked to stop playing. “The photographs are mostly about ordinary people in ordinary moments,” said Purohit. “The images direct the viewers to the often overlooked simple elegance of everyday life – things we take for granted but once framed they tell a story by themselves, one that viewers can relate to from their own experiences. With historical, cultural, religious or traditional backdrops, seemingly ordinary moments can acquire a life of their own in the story they seek to tell.”
He is especially inspired by Rai’s work, which, Purohit believes, captures both the beauty and quirks of India, showing people a story, instead of telling it to them. Rai, in an interview to the Hindustan Times, had said: “The kinds of photography I am most comfortable with are photojournalism, street photography, documentary photography and so on, all of which require me to take spur of the moment images.”
The power of that fleeting moment is not lost on Purohit – “On the street, before releasing the shutter, the mind’s eye is focused on the moment, the frame and nothing else aside from what it is that you’re hoping to communicate.”